Enthusiastic China let down by their lack of experience
Sevens is serious business in China since its inclusion in the 2016 Olympics, but yesterday's performances show the work that needs to be done before then.
Jiang Xuming's team were comfortably beaten by the United States (36-14) and though a first win in seven World Series meetings against Japan looked a possibility when they led 12-0 at half-time, their Asian rivals' greater experience told after the interval as they scored 17 points without reply.
Of course, there is no nation more accustomed to implementing five-year plans, and Jiang is optimistic that by the time Rio rolls around, he will have far more weapons at his disposal. All 22 provinces have been told by mainland authorities to encourage rugby with an eye to having teams in the National Games in Liaoning , an event where only Olympic sports are played, so players with the physicality and skill set suited to Sevens will be hunted far and wide.
Another incentive is the keenness of the International Rugby Board and World Series sponsors HSBC to expand into 'emerging markets', with Shanghai one of the cities being mooted as a possible new venue.
The future may be bright, but for now China have to work with what they have. Too often yesterday their lack of experience and perhaps a lack of the game awareness that other teams have coached into them from an early age was evident.
Lu Zhuan scored an impressive try against the US, for example, when he picked up a loose ball on his own 22, but for much of his sprint to the line he was looking desperately for someone to lay the ball off to, rather than putting his head down and charging.
China were also shrugged off too easily in the tackle, particularly by the US, who are well accustomed to sports where athleticism and finesse must be combined with raw physical power. In both matches there were far too many simple mistakes, and there was an interesting statistic in China's strike rate, or the number of passes per try: 9.0 against the US and a massive 21.5 against Japan, compared with around 5-6 for most of the top sides.
But Jiang took plenty of positives from his team's performance in a tough pool, and will go into today's 'local derby' against Hong Kong in the Shield with plenty of optimism.
'I'm actually quite happy with the two games we played today, especially with the offensive side,' he said. 'There were mistakes in defence and we need to improve. We started pretty well against Japan, but individual mistakes are always going to cost you against a team of their quality.'
Li Jialin and Lu had put China in a strong position against Japan, but the crucial moment was a case in point. A second-half break, and a potential match-clinching score, was on for China, but a silly fumble sent Shuetsu Narita straight through to level the scores with two minutes of the second half left.
'We have sent our best team here, but generally in training we don't have a very high level of team to play with or against and that's why those mistakes in defence crop up and why we haven't had a chance to improve much,' Jiang said. 'There were mistakes in handling and passing we could work on. We don't have that many players to choose from but with the Olympic support from the government and the formation of provincial teams, we should have very many more quality players coming through.'
Japan were just delighted to get a win, after determined but fruitless displays against the US on Friday and England yesterday (33-14). Their clash against Scotland in the Bowl today should be a close encounter, but captain Takayuki Yamauchi says there is only one thing on their mind after Japan's toughest couple of weeks since the second world war: 'We've played three matches and won only one - tomorrow we're going to win all of them and bring a trophy back to Japan.'